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Representation in the Film Industry

By Olly Halton

Representation is important to young people when consuming their favourite books, movies and plays. It allows them to see themselves in a light that they could attain to be, no longer the odd one out. It’s imperative that the media curates itself to represent modern attitudes and modern diversities: be that religious, racial, based on creed and social status, gender or sexual orientation.

I once wrote a whole coursework piece for Journalism directly on this subject. I used facts, figures, an interview with filmmaker Jan Moran Neil and even interviews with the public outside my local branch of Cineworld to find out just what they believed to be the answer to a question that has plagued my mind for a few years now: ‘Is there enough diversity in characters in the film industry?’ At the time, I came to the conclusion that whilst improving, the industry is still dominated by old white males, with females, people of colour and the LGBT community forced to take second place on the big screen. Some might argue that this is to not alienate audiences that might not be as accustomed to this as others, but others believe it is the film industry making attempts to make money in countries where things like being LGBT isn’t accepted, opting to press more for financial gain than the ability to tell unique and original stories about how the world has changed in recent years.

Now, given a time when the cinematic industry is changing at a phenomenal rate, I wanted to see if 2021 had brought forward promises that 2016 could not deliver upon. Since 2016, streaming services have seen a dramatic boom – especially the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus (which is of course still in its infancy). This particular boom, and the boom of films that will soon be re-consumed in the cinema, can be attributed largely to the devastating Coronavirus pandemic that has seen us needing to consume media at quite the distance to which we are usually familiar with.

It is important to note that real-world climates have also changed during this time. Costa Rica, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, Taiwan, Austria, Australia, Malta and Germany (to name but a few) have all since legalised same-sex marriage within their governmental systems; 2017 saw the global recognition of the Me Too movement after a viral tweet by actress Alyssa Milano that has now solidified what the film industry is willing to stand for and what it will stand against; and the Black Lives Matter movement saw a global re-trend during the pandemic following the murder of George Floyd in the US – something that has changed the way race relations are handled and resulted in many now being held rightly accountable for their actions.

But regarding the film industry, it has now been reported that since I last visited this topic, things have greatly improved. The huge successes of the big-screen adaptations of Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novels by Kevin Kwan, and Marvel Comics’ own Black Panther are believed to have contributed to this massively. The percentage of characters from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups rose from 29.3% to 36.3% in 2018. Nomadland won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars, directed by Chloe Zhao, a woman who is now embarking to direct the big-screen debut of Marvel’s the Eternals, a diverse group of god-like super beings. On the other hand, the LGBT community is not faring as well, reducing from 10.2% to 9.1% this year, dropping (according to GLAAD) for the first time in five years. Whilst this is as the main cast, the supporting cast in shows that include LGBT roles is still barely enough to fill a school-age classroom. However, curating a mixture of these three elements, the report found that on scripted broadcast shows, LGBT people of colour, including women, outnumbered LGBT white counterparts for the first time ever and made up 49% of streaming serviced characters.

Now, I realise that in the five year period since I last conducted this study, it does not look like a great many things have changed. The numbers are still incredibly small, though it is showing Hollywood’s ability to move with the times and to recognise and adapt itself away from stereotypes and unrealistic representations of our ever-changing society. It also shows that Hollywood recognises that not everyone, as a friend once put it to me, is ‘white, straight or a man.’

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